"Cesspools, on average, release 55 million gallons of untreated sewage a day into streams, oceans and nearby waterways," said Marti Townsend, director of Sierra Club of Hawaii. "That's an extreme amount of untreated raw sewage that people end up swimming in, fishing from and maybe even drinking."
Health officials say untreated sewage can be linked to skin infections and illnesses like Leptospirosis and Hepatitis A.
"Public health and safety is on the line," said state Rep. Chris Lee. "We want clean waters, we want clean beaches, and this is a step in that direction."
The state is offering a $10,000 tax credit to homeowners who convert to septic tanks, aerobic systems, or sewer lines.
Lawmakers want to broaden eligible cesspools from 200 feet to 500 feet of a shoreline stream, or other body of water.
"A lot of the folks in my community were not originally eligible to take advantage of the tax credit even though we knew it was a problem in our district," said state Rep. Jarrett Keohokalole, who represents Kaneohe, Kahaluu and Waiahole.
In 2014, the state Health Department put up signs warning residents to stay out of the water at Kahaluu Lagoon and the channel leading out to Kaneohe Bay. Officials suspect nearby cesspools have led to high levels of bacteria.
Not everyone is on board with the proposed plan.
Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim opposes the bill and says abolishing cesspools is unnecessary and contradicts the state's affordable housing efforts.
"The statue does provide for exemptions to the ban on cesspools," said Townsend. "There are locations where cesspools are the only option. but the idea would be those are the extreme rare occurrences and not the usual."
Exceptions would include homeowners with a small lot size, steep topography, poor soil or accessibility issues.